If you’ve ever practiced yoga or know anyone who does, the physical benefits are indisputable. Posture becomes improved, aches diminish, and overall flexibility resumes. But did you ever think about how this ancient practice of “holding positions” results in enormous positive shifts in physical health as well and attitude, mood, and brain power?
Yoga’s healing power on your brain and body and are simply based in science.
Let’s Begin Simply
One of the beautiful things about yoga is that, in essence, it is a simple practice. The perfection of achieving a pose—and then staying focused to maintain it—is the challenge. But this challenge becomes a reward. The more one practices, the greater and more numerous the rewards become.
Yoga and Your Mind
One of the most beneficial results from practicing yoga is stress relief. Two parts of the brain play a part in stress—one, it’s activation, the other, it’s deactivation.
The amygdala, the ancient fight or flight part, is emotional; it’s also been called “lizard brain.” This area of the brain is linked to the sympathetic (and reactionary) nervous system. It promotes the increase of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone), which then rushes throughout our body.
Parts of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex areas of the brain are more logical. These work in conjunction with our parasympathetic nervous system. When we engage in yoga, this “logical” part gets switched on. It works to shut down our stress response.
Research has shown that habitual yoga practice literally increases the grey matter density in those parts of the brain that aid in keeping us “relaxed.” Conversely, the grey matter density of the amagdyla showed a decrease in size. Incredible.
A German study back in 2005 revealed that cortisol levels (in the participants’ saliva) were decreased even after just one yoga session. So, even if you aren’t an avid yogi, practicing whenever you can, will provide you with mental health benefits.
Yoga and Your Body
When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it begins to calm the body down. It sends oxygen-rich blood to our digestive organs, endocrine glands, and lymphatic system. Healthy circulation is increased, which lowers heart rate and blood pressure. It also aids in releasing toxins. And with that, begins an improved ability to absorb nutrients from the healthy foods we’re eating.
Yoga and Your Mood
Everyone knows about the endorphins released from aerobic activity. Yoga, too, promotes release of other feel-good chemicals, such as GABA. Also, dopamine and serotonin levels increase. Neurotransmitters in the brain are targeted by those chemicals, elevating mood and decreasing anxiety. Many prescription anti-depressant/anxiety medications target the same areas for a similar result.
Yoga and Your Aging Brain and Body
As studies have shown, yoga helps “grow” parts of the brain. As the brain ages, its ability to learn and memorize isn’t as sharp as it once was. The denser grey matter in the hippocampus, resulting from yoga practice, can help with improved memory and learning skills. Yoga also increases neuroplasticity in the brain.
Yoga aids in building stronger bones. It’s a practice that uses strength-training, which will keep your balance and bones safer as you age. Overall immune health has also shown to be another invaluable perk of the practice.
Just think—a few minutes a day to practice something that makes you feel good, and may keep you younger longer—why not choose yoga?
For more reading on best physical and mental health practices, click here.